Above—Detail from John Browne’s 1589 map of Sligo, showing the three ships lost at Streedagh (image by permission of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich). Above right—A diver hovering over the large rudder when first discovered in 1985 by the Streedagh Armada Group on the wreck site of La Juliana (S. Balfe). Below right—An Underwater Archaeology Unit archaeologist assessing the ‘S. Matrona’ and ‘S. Iovane’ guns in advance of recording (C. Kelleher, National Monuments Service).
embargoed in February 1588 by Philip to serve as almirante or vice-flagship of the Levant Squadron in his Armada (WIID No. W07024). The galleass Santa María de Visón hailed from the Adriatic, specifically Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) in Croatia, and came in at 666 toneladas (tons). The vessel was requisitioned in Naples on 6 May 1587 to act as a military transport in the Levant Squadron and carried eighteen guns (WIID No. W07052). The Catalan-built La Juliana was originally named Santa María Santiago y Santa Clara when constructed in the year 1570. Of 867-ton burthen with 40 guns originally, La Juliana was a formidable vessel (WIID W07023). Requisitioned four times during her eighteen years of service, she was engaged in several key events during that time, including the Battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Turks in 1571, the invasion of the Algarve in 1580 and the Battle of the Azores and conquest of the island of Terceira in 1583, marking Spain’s final annexation of Portugal’s remaining territory. La Juliana was embargoed for a fourth and final time in 1586, as a troop and provisions transport in the Armada’s Levant Squadron.
Discovery, recovery and legislative findings
Local fishermen, through snagging their fishing nets and gear, had known about the presence of the three wrecks in Streedagh Bay for many years. It was not until 1985, however, that their specific locations were identified by a group of English divers, the Streedagh Armada Group (SAG), led by Steven Birch, Alan King and Harry Chapman. Some survey work was carried out and a number of artefacts were recovered at the time, including three cannon from the site of La Juliana and one from La Lavia.
For the next two decades investigation of the wrecks was suspended owing to legal proceedings between the finders and the State. The National Monuments Service (NMS) and the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) continued to monitor the sites during that time. Following severe weather in the winters of 2013 and 2014 the wreck of La Juliana was once again revealed. In 2015 the Underwater Archaeology Unit (UAU) of the NMS, in partnership with the NMI, carried out a rescue excavation and artefact recovery operation. Nine bronze guns were retrieved, along with a number of other artefacts from the wreck site. The collaborative involvement of members of the Grange and Armada Development Association (GADA), the Sligo Sub Aqua Club, Sligo County Council and the local communities of Grange and Streedagh contributed to the success of the project.
Location of the wreck sites and dynamics of Streedagh Bay
Streedagh, a north-west-facing crescent-shaped bay, is hemmed in between two headlands, Streedagh Point to the south-west and Conor’s Island to the north-east, a distance of c. 1.5 nautical miles. The small village of Grange is 2.5km inland from Streedagh and is the nearest populated centre to the wreck sites, with Mullaghmore, the closest working harbour, located some 5.5 nautical miles to the north-east. Streedagh Bay is open to the full impact of North Atlantic storms and swells, with rolling waves breaking near to shore and turbulent conditions affecting the